GREGSON MENTAL HEALTH CENTER
SECOND FLOOR HALL
"Somehow, I don't think it's a ghost living in a broom closet, Mulder."
"I think...I may have to agree with you, Scully."
The hall was deserted. Frowning, Scully pushed the first door to her right open and looked inside. Although there were no doctors, nurses, or patients anywhere in the long hallway, this room looked normal enough; two people sleeping in their beds, classical music wafting from a small speaker in the corner. She went back out. Mulder had moved down to the next room, and was peering in there. He turned around and shook his head. No doctors. No nurses. Everything downstairs had seemed normal, but the moment they had stepped on to this floor, there was something not right.
Scully walked over to stand next to him, and they looked around, wondering. A soft yellowish glow came from one of the rooms farther down.
Hmm, that's interesting. I wonder what's causing that...
She started walking towards the glow, Mulder close behind her. She felt his hand rest on her arm.
"I don't like this," he said.
She felt suddenly frustrated with him, and shook her arm free. He was the one who had insisted that they come out here. They had come this far, they might as well finish it. He was such a hypocrite sometimes, acting like he knew what to do, plowing in blindly, and then wimping out when it actually counted.
What? Mulder has never 'wimped out'—at anything. What are you—
The warm, yellow glow. She looked down and saw her hand pushing the door open before her. It opened into a welcoming, brownish-golden room with a thick plush rug and filmy curtains waving from the windows. So comforting. She could feel Mulder's hand on her back, warm, a reminder of his presence. At once, she both wanted him to leave her alone in this place and to stay behind her. Anger welled up in her at her own indecision. But why was she angry at herself? He was the one that had wronged her!
His hand fell away.
Abruptly, the room shifted—it was white, hospital-clean, only a table and a group of old women in wheelchairs sitting around. Scully jumped back, startled at the sudden change around her. She tried to scramble backwards, but stumbled over a pile on the floor—a body!
He was crumpled on the floor next to her feet, head lolled back, eyes vacant, his face white and expressionless. She dropped to her knees next to him, a lump tightening in her throat. Her hands shaking uncontrollably, she pressed her fingers to his neck, hoping desperately for a pulse—there! There it was, but thready and faint.
"Mulder, Mulder...oh no..."
She tried to find any recognition behind his eyes, but they were vacant and unseeing. To reassure herself, she felt for his pulse again, and found it.
He's still alive! He's alive. Breathe.
But Mulder was catatonic and Scully shuddered, trying to draw in a full lungful of air. The room wobbled and she grabbed at Mulder's prone form to steady herself, her thoughts scrambled. He was so still and unresponsive! Panic rose in her chest. Hands trembling, she loosened his tie, unbuttoned the first few buttons of his shirt, tried to think—
"Mulder...c'mon, listen to me..."
What are doing? You're a trained medical doctor! Do something!
"I'm trying, I'm trying, don't yell at me!"
Scully stopped, hands frozen. She had just yelled at herself. What was it with this place? She was in a mental hospital...
Mulder, wake up! I can't understand where you went!
Bits and fragments of half-formed thoughts raced through her mind. She struggled to grab onto one of them, to think of something coherent. Images of Mulder's slack face kept looming closer and closer to her, until she could feel the warmth of his skin against her cheek for barely a moment—what?—and then she was caught up in swirling darkness.
She struggled desperately, trying to throw off the arms restraining her—thin arms. She heard a pained grunt behind her as she broke free, which elicited a gasped cry from the darkness. She was about to bolt in panic, but something about the plea in that pained voice made her turn around to see who was there.
An old woman stood before her, her black eyes wide.
"Thank you for not running—I don't have the energy to go after you. The little that I have left in this tired mind is for him."
"Him who?" Scully asked, confused. Everything was spinning around her, dark and incoherent, but the swirling seemed to be settling into stillness. Emptiness and void.
"Your partner," the woman said, reaching out to hold Scully's forearms with her bony hands. "He needs us."
An agonized cry was cut off behind her, and Scully spun around, heart pounding. That voice, weak and desperate, tore at her chest. It had cried from within a swirling gray mass, the edges curling and roiling with hateful intent. Fear spiked in her when she tried to concentrate on the mass, and she backed away, only to find herself once again held in the thin arms. She twisted around, slightly unsteady on her feet, and unable to understand why there was so much emptiness and black around her. All that she could feel and see was this old woman—where was she? Who was this woman?
"My name is Peg, you're still here."
"You answered my... We've got to find him and help him! There's something wrong! Where am I? What is that, that horrible...thing over there?" Scully babbled, panic rising in her throat.
Peg's face tightened up, her dark, eerie eyes pinning Scully, holding her still.
"Listen to me!" Peg spoke in a hoarse whisper, her bony fingers tightening around Scully's wrists. "We have to stop them from hurting him! He doesn't have much time to fight, if he even can fight!"
"Yes, yes," Scully mumbled. Peg's hands came up to cup her face on both sides. The pressure hurt and Scully gasped and opened her eyes wide.
"I can hear you, I'm listening." Scully felt like crying; she felt anger, fear, pain, anguish, hurt...
A surge of strength rose up in her chest, and she suddenly saw half a dozen wizened faces looming over her, their mouths pulled back in horrifying, hungry smiles, their eyes burning intently, painfully piercing into her skull. She cried out in primal fear. The faces came back in aching clarity, gray wisps tightening around his/her chest and throat and he/she lashed out in horrible desperation. The faces changed, their dry lips moving, the death-like smiles gone. Then a gray wisp engulfed his/her head in burning fire and she instinctively pulled out—
A horrible scream rent the blackness.
Scully whipped her eyes open, feeling her partner's cry tearing through her as she withdrew from him. The nightmare sliced through her whole body, leaving only reddened wounds covering her skin, lighting it on fire. Her whole being trembled uncontrollably.
"Don't give in! Fight this! Listen to me!" A hoarse whisper in her ear. The old woman's face cleared before her.
"They want to drain his mind from his body—that is how they find their mental energy, by wrenching it from others. I vow this will be the last time. He is untrained and he is fighting back instinctively, but they have trapped him. He is weakening. You can feel it, no?"
Scully nodded in shock, the sting of tears burning at the edges of her eyes. Surrounded by that horrifying vision, that suffocating mist—
"Shhh! Don't think about them. They will know you're present if you do. Close your eyes, I must explain it to you..."
Shaking, Scully closed her eyes and found herself swept away—she opened her eyes to see a warm summer afternoon in front of a white house, the grass green and thick under her brown-and-white saddle shoes.
Shh, just see what I show you.
Warm breezes wafted over her face, and she saw a group of girls standing around a small bird lying on the grass. Its wing was broken and it chittered pitifully, limping, turning in a confused circle on the grass. She knelt down and touched the tiny creature, ran her fingers along the silky feathers of its back, smoothing them down. The wing was sore: it was broken right there. If only that piece of white would straighten out with this one, here—It was straightening out! The blood was clearing away—!
Scully's mouth dropped open at the little bird's movements. The wing was waving gently before her astonished face, and she watched the bird test it. Then it pushed its tiny feet against her fingers and leapt into the air, flying up into a clear blue sky. She had healed it with her thoughts!
Images raced past through her vision, of the sisters gathering around Anna after she fell from the tree. Her head was pulled at a horrible angle, and some knowledge told her that her sister was dead. She watched as they all crouched down around the body, and after a few seconds, Anna opened her eyes, her neck straightening. Only the light was gone in her eyes, and it could never be put back.
Anna sang songs in the night.
She and her sisters aged, stood wind-whipped in a thunderstorm they had called up, the dark clouds swirling over their heads. She felt a twinge of fear, but pressed on, so awed by the power that they wielded.
Eight women, living alone, haunted by waking nightmares that they fought off together. Their first Reach, when an unsuspecting traveler came in to ask for help with his automobile. They were all exhausted, aged beyond their physical years. They took strength from him, suddenly able to get more energy! They put him back in his car and he drove into a tree—
Deep sadness welled up in her chest, and then a flurry of images raced by. Of being put in a hospital room by the county sheriff and his young men. Of aging together here, building a web of minds so strong they could meld into one persona and extend their combined powers to explore the forbidden world beyond them. Of watching a young woman—herself!—walk from her car up to an apartment and let herself in—the three boys down the hall—sitting still, vacant—a dark, shadowed man trying to shake her—the back of her hand hitting something warm and hearing a pained cry in the darkness—the dark man is back, but it is light now, he wants her—she can go if he sacrifices part of himself—she walks past him—he arches and collapses against a white wall—
Scully forced her eyes open.
"Now you see what happened?" Peg asked.
"Yes," Scully gasped, trying to breathe through the vise that gripped her chest. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She wanted only to escape this nightmare, to run back to her childhood and play chalk games on the sidewalk with Missy—
"Listen! I and my sisters have lived longer than was ever right. The horror that we have become must be destroyed. We must do this—" An image of a ring of links suddenly appeared, along with the knowledge that she had to throw herself into the center, to cover the weakened body lying there, struggling faintly against the heaviness closing in on him. In the image, one link suddenly snapped, pulling away from the group, and then there was only blackness, and a feeling of finality.
"Our bodies withered away to support the drains of our minds. We are paralyzed and dying. If I break my link in the ring, and they are unprepared, our Web will be destroyed, and all of our bodies will be brought down with it. You understand?"
Scully blinked. So many sensations were racing through her mind at once, but she knew with an unshakable certainty that she was to cover that form struggling weakly in the center. Mulder. She could feel his awareness just at the edges of her existence, fading, a single repeated cry whispered through the blackness surrounding them both.
Thickness welled up in the back of her throat and she nodded.
"Thank you," she whispered to Peg, seeing herself reflected in the blackness of the old woman's eyes.
She was pushed towards the roiling gray mass and she braced herself, diving in with all her strength. The cold, gray wisps slid over her and then she fell, spreading herself out in as wide a covering as she could. She felt a warmth beneath her, and she wrapped her herself tightly around it with only a primal, instinctual move. Roars of rage rose up around her—
"IT ENDS NOW!" A hoarse voice screamed, and then agony...
—but she felt pain for only a brief moment, and then energy swirled madly around her, winds sweeping, spinning, whipping over her and under her, abrasive as it scratched her being. There was a shiver beneath her—
It was quiet.
The warmth beneath her moved and groaned.
Scully reflexively inhaled. Her head was suddenly filled with the strong scent of aftershave, sweat, and something else she could only think of as...Mulder. Her eyes flew open and she tried to jerk back, but her muscles wouldn't respond quickly enough, and she ended up jerking herself up about six inches and then flopping back down to drop her head on something warm and moving.
Her body started reporting back to her that it was there, and that it felt like it had just survived a tornado. It also starting reporting exactly what she was lying on top of. She was sprawled across her partner's long body, her face practically buried in his neck and her legs spread out in some uncomfortable fashion on the hard concrete floor.
Uhh, what happened to the rug?
Forget the rug, what happened to me?
Another groan rumbled near her head and she tried to move up again, but a spasm shot up her neck. She immediately dropped back down again and grabbed the muscles, tears springing to her eyes and a whimper escaping her lips. She felt a warm hand close over hers, and Mulder's worried voice, hoarse and dry.
"Scully? What's the matter?" He coughed, his chest shuddering under her cheek. She squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth as her neck spasmed again.
"Muscle cramp," she tried to say, but it came out in a dry whisper. Sparks were flying through her eyes at the sudden pain shooting up and down her neck. She felt her hand be pushed away from her throat, and then fingers began kneading the tense muscles.
"Sorry..." Mulder sounded tired, but his fingers continued to firmly knead her neck. The discomfort started to fade and she took in a deep breath, letting out an unconscious sigh.
The floor vibrated and she heard pounding from nearby, coming closer. Suddenly the door to the room flew open, swinging around until it hit the wall with a crash. She jumped, heard a bellow, and opened her eyes. A huge figure bent over her head, and it cursed.
"What are you doing?" the figure hissed, sounding like a very angry Skinner.
Scully immediately wrenched herself up to a sitting position as Mulder's hand fell away from her neck. Heat crept into her cheeks, and her fatigued muscles trembled as she forced herself to remain upright.
"Sir..." she began, then winced and clapped a hand to her neck.
Skinner growled and, reaching down, grabbed a handful of Mulder's loosened shirt and tie. He hauled Mulder to his feet, his face reddening with anger. "Agent Mulder, what the hell are you—?"
Skinner broke off when he realized that Mulder was holding onto his arm for support. Mulder's eyes were closed and his head drooped. Skinner took in the younger man's weary posture for a long moment, then turned to look at Scully, who was slowly pulling herself to her feet. He noted the dark circles under her eyes before taking a closer look at Mulder.
"Sir...please...Agent Mulder is not...well," Scully protested.
Skinner loosened his grip on the younger man's shirt, and Mulder released his breath. When he looked up, his eyes were red-rimmed. He soon let them fall closed again. Skinner turned his gaze back to Scully, silently asking her to explain what happened.
She gave a slight shake of her head and looked away, a mixture of confusion and exhaustion in her expression.
Skinner took in the whole room, with its bare white walls and its curtainless, austere windows. There were eight women scattered about in wheelchairs, but all were motionless, not even their chests rising faintly.
He drew in a sharp breath and frowned. "They're all dead."
"Yes, sir," Scully answered dully. He turned his eyes on her, then looked at Mulder.
"Either of you need a physician?"
Mulder let out a kind of pained sigh, his lips curving up in a grimace.
"No sir, just rest," Scully replied. She took in a deep breath and let it out.
The three of them stood still for a long moment, and then Skinner waved his arm towards the door, beckoning. Two members of his SWAT team entered and, with grim nods, allowed the doctors and nurses to come into the room. Soon, this whole scene would be taped off and the dead bodies carried out. Skinner flexed his jaw, then met Scully's eyes.
"Are you safe to drive?"
"I am, sir," she answered.
"Then go," he said. "Get out of here. Take the weekend off, both of you. And I expect a full report on Monday morning."
For a moment, neither of them moved. Then Scully put her hand on Mulder's arm, and with brief nods, they turned away from Skinner, moving slowly as they walked out.
OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Skinner unlocked the door to his office and was about to step into the room when his foot caught on a piece of paper on the floor—a manila envelope. He stooped down and picked it up. Frowning, he wondered who had to resort to sliding manila envelopes under his door to get messages to him. He walked in, dropped the envelope on his desk, and shrugged off his coat. Shirley and her coterie of assistants were not in yet, and there was no return address—or sending address, for that matter—on the package. He had an unpleasant suspicion of who had left it, though.
Dropping into his chair, he swiveled around to look out the window behind him. He had a nice, well-lit city office, and now mysterious, shadowy organizations were slipping ultra-secret envelopes under his door. He smirked as he looked out over the D.C. morning skyline. Never once in his childhood had he imagined being in a position like this. He had always figured he would go into his father's barbershop business after he got over his teenage rebellion phase in the Army. That it would always be there to fall back on.
Going to Vietnam had changed all of that. It had changed a lot of things. He'd come back home to find that his father had sold the shop and saved a small nest egg just to retire on. And there Walter Skinner was: a vet, unemployed, generally disillusioned with life, and angry at his having lost what he considered his future. The military had stepped in and conveniently offered him a low-level, low-paying position. Now, here he was, twenty years later, sitting in a high-level office with a window that took up almost an entire wall, receiving ultra-secret envelopes from people unable to figure out the interoffice postal system.
He chuckled, then sighed. Oh well, he might as well resign himself to finding out what was so important it couldn't be given to him in at least a borderline-normal way. Like maybe a top-secret government courier with a gun and a long black coat.
He was supposed to be meeting with Mulder and Scully in an hour. Shirley would arrive in only a few minutes, her stack of memos typed and ready for his approval. Everyone would expect his authoritative demeanor, his serious attitude, not him griping about mysterious men in black or postally-challenged spies.
He swiveled around and picked up the envelope, frowning. Oh well, top-secret government conspiracies must be—
Skinner blinked as the contents slid out onto his desk. This was so important it had to be anonymously shoved under his door?
Never mind 'postally-challenged'. 'Incredibly bored' might be a better description.
8:00 A. M.
"Agents Mulder and Scully. He's expecting you."
"We know," Scully said impatiently.
Shirley darted her a raised eyebrow and pressed the speaker button to Skinner's office phone. "They're here, sir."
"Send them in."
Scully twisted the knob, pushed the door open, walked across the room, and slid into the farthest chair, Mulder close behind her. She was feeling rather better this morning, though she couldn't pin down quite why. Maybe it was the fact that Mulder had woken her up that morning by waving a steaming mug of coffee under her nose. Yes, that must be it, the caffeine.
It's not because it was him waving the coffee, was it?
No, of course not...although that was nice, too.
Scully gritted her teeth and tried to focus on what she'd be telling A.D. Skinner.
She'd struggled home last night with Mulder absolutely out cold in the seat next to her, so she'd once again ruled out the idea of dropping him off at his apartment alone. She'd somehow managed to sleepwalk him up to her apartment and drape him across her couch. After a oddly clear image of tucking a blanket under his chin, things just started to get fuzzy. The next thing she remembered clearly was waking up in bed the next morning, fully clothed, the blanket up to her neck and a curious weight tilting the bed off to a crazy angle, making her roll down into the dip.
It turned out to be Mulder, who was slowly waving something in front of her face. She had groaned and rolled back over—or tried to, anyway. Unfortunately, he was creating a rather significant depression in the mattress, and her groggy attempts at getting away just resulted in tangling up the sheets and getting a little bit of the Folger's Coffee theme music sung to her, along with some very strong caffeinated vapors percolating into her sleep-fuzzed brain.
So now here she was, sitting in Skinner's office, thinking about Mulder waving mugs under her nose. Oh well, she supposed there were worse things to be thinking about...
Skinner cleared his throat, and Scully recollected herself.
"Good morning, sir," she said, sitting up straighter. "What was it you wanted to speak to us about?"
"Have you filed a report yet on the situation that occurred yesterday afternoon?"
"No, actually, sir, we both went to bed early," Mulder replied, slouching a bit.
An odd look crossed Skinner's face.
"I see," he replied, pointlessly moving some papers around on his desk. His fingers alighted on an unmarked manila folder and stopped. He sat staring at it for several long seconds, then looked up at Scully. She noticed that he looked rather more red than usual.
"Are you all right, sir?" she asked.
Skinner blinked. "Oh yes, quite." He cleared his throat again.
"If the report is that important," Scully offered, "we can finish it by noon and give it to your secretary, sir."
"Yes, yes, that would be...good."
Scully frowned. She was starting to feel a bit odd with Skinner shifting in his seat in front of them. The silence went on for about half a minute, and she exchanged glances with Mulder, who only frowned at her and shook his head slightly in confusion. She opened her mouth to ask again if Skinner really was all right, but he suddenly cleared his throat and, with a stiff gesture towards them, pushed the manila envelope to the edge of his desk.
Frowning, Mulder leaned forward and picked up the envelope. He shook it gently, letting the contents spread themselves out on the desk.
What spilled out were black-and-white photographs. After a peripheral glance at one of them, Mulder suddenly sat closer and frowned, his mouth dropping open slightly. Scully slid forward in her seat and picked up a photo, nearly losing her grip on it when she saw what it held.
It was her and Mulder, sleeping. On the same bed. She swallowed hard and dragged her eyes up to Skinner's. The Assistant Director was eyeing her, expressionless.
Mulder sat back in his chair, still holding one picture, and ran a hand down his face, rubbed his chin. Skinner turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised slightly. Scully sat back and cleared her throat, looking everywhere but at her boss.
Skinner was amused by his two agents, who looked for all the world like two teenagers caught behind the Dairy Mart.
Scully swallowed. "Well, sir, we can explain—"
"You don't have to. I know what I see here."
"Sir—" Mulder and Scully started, simultaneously sitting forward, but Skinner held up his hand for silence.
"You misunderstand me. I know what I see here: nothing. It's clear that this picture was taken a month ago, after Mulder's...encounter...in his apartment. You're both fully clothed and there's three feet of empty space between you. It is obvious that Agent Scully was simply monitoring your sleep that night, Agent Mulder. What does he think he can achieve with these pictures, do you think? This is ridiculous and a waste of my time!"
Mulder and Scully exchanged looks that were so confused that Skinner felt his usual facade beginning to crumble dangerously. He whipped his hand over to one of his desk drawers for a tissue, then wiped his nose with as much composure as he could muster. The looks on their faces were priceless. He pushed his nose into the tissue and continued battling the desire to start guffawing like a donkey, thereupon losing all their respect in one fell swoop.
Bewildered, Mulder looked at Scully and she looked back at him. Skinner was blowing his nose into a tissue that they have never before seen him pull out of his desk, and he was also making a strange sort of snuffling sound. They didn't know quite how to respond to his outburst a moment ago. This whole affair felt rather odd.
Skinner's eyes were tearing up. He swallowed down the rising hysteria in his throat and began shoving the photos back into the manila envelope. Mulder and Scully quickly returned each of the ones they were holding, and he stuffed them into the envelope as well. He held the sealed envelope out to Scully, who stood up and hesitantly took it. She held it as if it were a dirty pair of socks. Or underwear.
Skinner blew his nose rather loudly. Choke-snuffled. Mulder abruptly stood up and continued staring at him. This was torture. Skinner hacked a bit and pulled out another tissue, trying to unobtrusively wipe his eyes at the same time. This was sending him into paroxysms of snuffling.
"Uh, sir...what are we expected to do with this?" Scully asked, staring at him.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied, swiping at his nose. "I don't care. Just get them out of my office. Tack them up on one of those overcrowded walls of yours—next to one of your gruesome slime-sucking photos. It would be a nice backdrop."
"Sir?!" Scully's mouth dropped open slightly.
Skinner realized he'd just said something very un-Assistant-Director-of-the-FBI-like.
"Get...get out. Dismissed," he managed to work out, in between snuffs.
Scully started for the door immediately, but Mulder walked out at a more leisurely pace. When he reached the office door that Scully had left wide open in her wake, he stopped and turned around.
"What do you think of the caption 'After our alien implants, clothes were not an obstacle'?"
A muffled shriek erupted somewhere from Scully's probable location.
"Just...get...blinds...Mulder," Skinner managed to gasp out.
The door slipped shut, leaving Skinner alone in his office to explode.
I am very grateful to my two fantastic beta readers, Taffer and brianna-xox, for their excellent critiques. Taffer was the one who prompted me to pick this story back up after 19 years, give it a thorough edit, and break it into chapters, so you have her to thank for its readability. And both she and brianna-xox caught so many embarrassing errors! They make me look like a much better writer than I actually am. :) I am also grateful to the anonymous Guest reviewer who caught two factual errors.
Thanks go to God for the vivid dream that inspired this story. I'm also grateful to my sister, Jessica, who was an invaluable source of information, patience, and Psalm 40; my parents, who put up with me sequestering myself in a little closet with my computer for hours on end; my friend Jen, for keeping my "to have"s and "to be"s in mind; and finally to R.J. Anderson, for reminding me to focus on the Lord and inspiring me to write a meaningful Mulder/Scully relationship story. She gave me great beta feedback on this story in its original incarnation.
Thank you, dear reader, for giving this story your time. I welcome all feedback, including criticism and suggestions for improvement, so don't hesitate to speak up!
I do not own any The X-Files properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Characters and situations, created by Chris Carter, are taken from The X-Files Seasons 1-5 (1993-1997) ©Ten-Thirteen Productions, 20th Television, and 20th Century Fox Television.
This story is released under the GPL/CC BY: verbatim copying and distribution of this entire work are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided attribution is preserved.